Wednesday, May 28, 2008

slowness and reflection

i came across the best post i've seen in a long time on the design observer. it's the cranbrook commencement address from this may. in it the speaker, Julie Lasky, touches on craft, technology and reflection.

"As a writer, I can tell you that, although the hand is identified with craft, materiality can be thought as well as felt — you can hear the click of a well-constructed sentence being assembled in your head; you can feel the stretch of a good mental workout. You don’t need to get your hands dirty to be a craftsperson; you need to get your minds dirty. And where I will point an accusatory finger at technology is in providing shortcuts to the slow deliberative process of acquiring a skill, which is guaranteed by working the hand. If you’re not careful, technology, with its immediacy and high resolution, swaps the illusion of mastery or wisdom for the real, hard-won thing. As the sociologist Richard Sennett recently wrote, “The slowness of craft time serves as a source of satisfaction: practice beds in, making the skill one’s own. Slow craft time also enables the work of reflection and imagination — which the push for quick results cannot.”

For Sennett, the value of practicing a craft is not just improved technique but also an ability to make imaginative connections to other parts of culture. In a recent interview with I.D., he discussed a widely held belief that 10,000 hours of practice are required to build expertise in any discipline. For the first 5,000 or 6,000 hours, the student simply learns to ingrain the physical gestures associated with his or her craft, whether glass-blowing or cello playing. “But,” Sennett cautions, “if your habit is fixed, you never get better.” So, somewhere between the 6,000th and 7,000th hour, the student begins to apply lateral thinking to develop new habits that are influenced by other areas of culture and work to enrich his or her own. There are social and ethical, as well as aesthetic, dimensions, to this process, in Sennett’s view. And he makes a very convincing case for it.

So you see, I’m not disputing or opposing the reawakening of a hunger for craft — and certainly not picking that fight on this campus. I am disputing and opposing the easy polarities that pit craft against technology, materials against ideas, and the hand against the mind."

as some of you know, my research this past semester focused on exploring reflection in interaction design. i wrote a paper, "Opportunities for Reflection: Selective Slowness in Design". (i've been encouraged to not post my papers here, but if anyone wants to read it, just let me know) i'm really glad that i came across this post today. it's so easy to put your research aside once you complete a semester, but tonight i felt that fire in my chest again — that flutter of excitement. i don't think i'm done exploring the implications of reflection in design, learning, and making just yet.

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